At the "Immigration 101, Just the Facts" meeting at the Fremont Main Library, five panelists from different backgrounds dealing with immigration issues debated the economic impact of illegal immigration, what rights undocumented immigrants have and how Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents should conduct raids.
"At the root of immigration issues is, 'Do we have economic fears or human xenophobia?'" said Syeda Yunus, president of the League of Women Voters. "We need to analyze if the decisions we make are based on fear or based on what is best for us as a country."
The panel discussion was organized by the League of Women Voters of Fremont, Union City and Newark as a local component of a national effort to develop a position on immigration. Miriam Keller, a former League of Women Voters president, said the discussion was just the first step for their local group to seek a consensus in November.
Keller said the national League of Women Voters has posted research papers on immigration, and in November the national arm will give local groups a set of questions.The local groups will then tackle each question, in search of consensus.
Saturday's panel included Steven Levy, an economist; Jennifer Lee, an immigration rights clinic worker at Stanford Law School; Katherine Corcoran, a Latino affairs reporter; Larry Crider, chief of staff of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; and Aarti Kohli, a legal policy associate.
Even when panelists disagreed on facts, such as whether a DUI is a deportable offense, or disagreed on how ICE has conducted its raids, the panelists respected others' opinions.
Kohli talked about ICE raids on whole apartment buildings, and Lee discussed families scrambling for homes for their children. Crider, saying he wasn't defending ICE, a sister organization of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, responded that ICE has been pressured by both sides about how it conducts raids.
"Whichever way they turn, someone has a problem," Crider said. "It's either not enough or too much. They are in a difficult position."
Levy discussed the economic impacts immigrants have on the U.S., saying they aren't hurting the middle class, but he added that raising the minimum wage would cause serious economic repercussions.
Yunus said the panel's opposing views "highlighted the complexity of the issues and the importance of carefully analyzing facts rather than giving into myth."